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Sept. 27 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will try to rebound from its first loss of the season Saturday when it opens Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) play in Greenville, Pa., against Thiel College. Kickoff at Thiel’s Alumni Stadium is set for 1 p.m.

The Bison (2-1) suffered a 28-13 setback last Saturday night at Geneva (Pa) College. Despite being outgained by more than 155 yards (439-284), BC was within a score at 21-13 midway through the fourth quarter. However, an interception ended a BC possession that had reached midfield and the Golden Tornadoes would drive down for an insurance score that sealed their victory.

Offensively, BC was led by senior quarterback Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse), who threw for 217 yards and two scores. His top targets on the night were sophomore Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier), who grabbed six balls for 88 yards and an 11-yard TD in the third quarter, and junior Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.), who pulled in a 21-yard scoring strike in the second quarter. Although Cruse (18 rec., 347 yards, four TDs) and McNeil (nine rec., 142 yards, 1 TD) lead the team in receptions, they are just two weapons at the Bison’s disposal on the outside. Among the other threats in the BC passing game includes senior TE Mike Elias (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), junior WR Brad Zink (Washington Court House, Ohio/Miami Trace), sophomore Matthew Dahle (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox) and a host of solid freshmen.

“First thing having a deep receiving corps does is make your quarterback very comfortable knowing he has a lot of options down field that can catch the ball,” said Bethany head coach Tim Weaver. “And it helps in practice because you can rotate players to keep people fresh. Also depth automatically creates competition because guys know they need to perform since there are other players behind them waiting for a chance.”

Bethany’s defensive labors at Geneva were spearheaded by a hard-hitting secondary. Junior CB Brandon Zeman (Bridgeville, Pa./Chartiers Valley) posted a career-high 12 tackles, while sophomore CB Michael Salters (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox), who knocked out two Geneva starters with big hits, and junior SS Dante Fuscardo (Follansbee, W.Va./Brooke) each had nine stops. Not only is this group heavily involved in stopping the running game, they are also a major reason the Bison are ranked first in the PAC in pass defense (104.0 yards per game).

“We feel our two corners are as good as anybody’s,” said Weaver. “We ask a lot of them, from supporting the run to covering in man-to-man and zone. And for somebody like Zeman, we move him around a lot because he is also a good blitzer.

“In addition, we have some younger players who are developing quickly,” said Weaver. “(Sophomore) Nelson Mitzen (Waynesburg, Pa./Waynesburg Central) is growing up fast and playing with a lot of confidence. Also, (sophomore) Ariel Ramirez (West Hempstead, N.Y.) got a chance last week against Geneva and did some good things and Ryan Saunders (Youngstown, Ohio/Liberty) is a freshman who has a lot of potential.”

Saturday’s game will give Thiel (1-3, 0-1) a chance to erase the memory of a heart-breaking loss last week. The Tomcats trailed Thomas More (Ky.) College 8-0 late in the fourth quarter before scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass from QB Willie Bova to Brett Helman with 1:55 to play. Needing the two-point conversion to tie, the pass attempt was incomplete and Thiel dropped their conference opener 8-6.

The Tomcats offense hasn’t had an easy time amassing points and yards this season, as they rank ninth in the league in scoring (7.2 ppg.) and eighth in total offense (272.2). Bova has thrown for 721 yards and two scores so far this season, with WR Marc LaScola (27 rec., 256 yards, 1 TD) serving as the top target. The main issue for the Thiel offense has been getting their running game on track. Through four games, running backs Dan Hess (219 yards, 3.4 ypc., 2 TDs) and Steve Minton (86 yards, 2.4 ypc., 0 TDs) have totaled just 305 yards this season. By comparison, in a 49-7 victory at Bethany last season, Hess (121) and Minton (85) totaled 206 yards on a day in which the Tomcats chewed up 293 rushing yards.

According to Weaver, the main issue with the Thiel offense has been the great competition they’ve faced, as well as an offensive line that is starting to come together.

“Thiel’s main problem is that they’ve played very good teams,” said Weaver. “They lost to Geneva in the opener and we saw how good they are last week. They played Alfred (N.Y.), a good football team who destroyed another playoff team last week and Thomas More and Albion (Mich.) are solid programs as well.

“The other thing for them is their offensive line had some new faces on it this year,” said Weaver. “But you can watch it on film, how they come together a little more every week. They are still going to present major challenges to us because of Minton and Hess. They are as a good a tandem as we will see this year.”

On the other side of the ball, the Tomcats are fifth in the circuit in points allowed (18.0), but are also allowing 397.2 yards per contest, which places them eighth in the league. A pair of linebackers are posting strong numbers this season, as Sam Swartzfager has 36 stops (eighth in the PAC) and Michael Stimac has been in on 31 hits (12th). One area the Tomcats have excelled this season is getting after the quarterback, as they are second in the conference with 14 sacks. Posting a team-high four is DE Chris Lorber, while seven other players have at least one sack.

“They have the luxury of having two good pass-rushing defensive ends,” said Weaver. “They blitz some but they are what every defensive coordinator wants in that they can get pressure without sending a lot of guys. Plus, they have active linebackers and defensive backs who can shut you down, so they are a solid defensive unit.”

Breaking down the keys to the game involves looking at the running attack for both clubs, as BC must not only slow down the Tomcats but also vastly improve their performance in last year’s game (-2 yards rushing).

“We have to run the ball,” said Weaver. “We need to eliminate the big play, because Hess broke off a big one and LaScola got behind our secondary a couple times last year. And finally, we also need to tackle Minton and Hess, which should help force third down situations where we dictate what they do.”